NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey are working against a bill to allow faculty and staff to carry guns on the campuses of Tennessee's public universities.
But the two Republicans have arrived at their positions for different reasons.
Haslam told The Associated Press last week that he wants to leave it up to administrators at each school to decide whether to allow guns to be carried, while Ramsey claimed the proposal would unfairly dominate media attention while several other important initiatives are pending before lawmakers.
Supporters of the measure say they would leave it up to administrators to ban guns on campus as long as they are willing to guarantee the safety of students and staff. Haslam called that standard unrealistic.
"It's very hard on a campus — or in a lot of other situations — to guarantee anybody's safety," he said. "So that language is worrisome."
The measure sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, also is opposed by both of the state's higher education systems and by the police chiefs' association.
The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
"I'm discouraging the sponsor from bringing it up this year," Ramsey said. "That's not something that needs to be brought up."
The number of Tennessee handgun carry permit holders in January was nearly 308,000, a 40 percent increase since the same month in 2009. Over that same period, about 1,600 permits were suspended or revoked because of criminal charges or orders of protection in domestic violence cases.
Ramsey said the only major gun bill he wants to pass this session is one that would ban businesses from prohibiting their employees from storing guns in cars parked on company lots. Haslam also has expressed support for the measure, despite objections from the business community that it would violate property rights.
"I want to concentrate on what I think is meaningful and what will help Second Amendment, gun carry permit holders the most," Ramsey said. "And I do think that guns on campus is a sideline that we don't need to be getting to right now."
The House last week advanced a measure to allow judges to carry guns in courtrooms as long as they go through the same weapons training required of law enforcement officers, including a 16-hour safety course and annual eight-hour refresher courses.
Republican Rep. Jim Coley of Bartlett said he will seek similar training standards for faculty and staff to carry guns on campus. But the proposal's prospects are uncertain given the vocal opposition to those rules among several committee members on the judges bill.
"There's so many other places where you have as many or more people as in the courtroom, where permit holders are not required to have that kind of specialized training," said Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Somerville. "Having that extra eight hours of training each year just discourages our judges to protect themselves."
But Rep. Rick Womick said practice is crucial to keeping shooting skills sharp.
"All my family members who are over 21 years old have their carry permits, and I have to make them go with me to the shooting range to practice, particularly my wife," the Murfreesboro Republican said.
"If you don't practice, I promise you that you will make a mistake and you won't be as comfortable as you should be."
Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby and the main sponsor of the bill to allow judges to carry guns, said he doesn't agree with enhanced training requirements for certain scenarios when other permit holders are "allowed to carry anywhere else from the mall to McDonald's."